The Malek Lab for Intraoperative Molecular Imaging

Marcus Malek, MD director of Pediatric Surgical Oncology at UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh, directs a unique research program focused on improving surgical outcomes in pediatric tumors through use of novel molecular imaging technology. Towards this end, he and his lab team are developing new surgical tracers to guide surgeons to the tumor, facilitate safe resection, and confirm that the entire tumor was removed.

Complete surgical resection of tumors is critical to providing the best possible patient outcomes, but unfortunately, incomplete resection is a common occurrence. A significant program being pursued by Dr. Malek and his team is a dual-labeled, tumor-specific tracer, that will provide both visual and audible signals within the tumor that can be detected using existing surgical tools. Although the project is specifically targeting pediatric neuroblastoma and osteosarcoma, ultimately the technology can also be applied to other types of pediatric tumors.

Areas of Focus

Fluorescent and Radio Guided Surgery

Despite rapid advancements and use of surgical tracers for adult tumors, surgical tracer development for resection of pediatric cancers has been limited. Researchers in the Malek Lab are seeking to improve pediatric cancer surgery outcomes through development of a first-of-its-kind tracer that incorporates tumor-specific targeting, radioactivity for guidance to hidden tumors, and fluorescence for visualization of exposed tumor. This research focuses on pediatric solid tumors, including neuroblastoma, surgery for which has a complication rate of nearly 50%, due in part to deep lesions that are often difficult for surgeons to discern from normal tissue. Researchers believe that a radio-fluorescent antibody-based tracer can facilitate intraoperative detection of pediatric neuroblastomas for safer and more complete removal, leading to improved patient outcomes and survival. Similarly, metastatic osteosarcoma can often be challenging to find, but complete tumor removal is critical to survival.  A radio-fluorescent tracer could prove invaluable for these patients.

Handheld tracer devices used in the Malek Lab’s research  Handheld tracer devices used in the Malek Lab’s research

Some of the handheld tracer devices used in the Malek Lab’s research.

Localization of Pulmonary Nodules in Children

Pulmonary nodules have various etiologies, and thoracoscopic biopsy is typically used for diagnostic and therapeutic resection in children. However, subpleural and subcentimeter lesions can be extremely difficult to visualize. The Malek Lab is leading a multi-center study to evaluate the extent to which image-guided localization techniques can assist in detection of pulmonary nodules.

The use of indocyanine green (ICG) provides a fluorescent cue for identifying pulmonary nodules during thoracoscopic surgery

The use of indocyanine green (ICG) provides a fluorescent cue for identifying pulmonary nodules during thoracoscopic surgery.

Lab Team & Contact Information

Marcus Malek, MD

Principal Investigator
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Gary Kohanbash, MD

Barry Edwards

Lauren Rosenblum MD, PhD
Post-Doctoral Fellow

Sever, ReidAnn
Research Technician

Contact Us

The Malek Lab
UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh
John G. Rangos Sr. Research Center, Suite 8129
4401 Penn Avenue
Pittsburgh, PA 15224

News & Activities

Lab Activities and Achievements


Marcus Malek, MD, and Gary Kohanbash, PhD, were awarded R01 funding by the NIH and NCI for their project titled "Intraoperative dual-labeled molecular tracer to improve surgery on neuroblastoma".


Marcus Malek, MD, was awarded the R.K. Mellon Institute Pilot Translational Research Award for his project, “Development of a Targeted Radio-fluorescent Tracer for Intraoperative Detection of Occult Malignant Lesions and Tumor Margins, Facilitating Complete Surgical Resection of Pediatric Tumors.”

Presentations at Scientific Meetings


Dr. Malek presented his work on dual-modality intraoperative molecular imaging in neuroblastoma at the Precision Surgery international meeting in Philadelphia, PA.


Katrina Morgan, MD, gave a platform presentation entitled, “Interhospital Variability in Localization Techniques for Pulmonary Nodules in Children:  A Pediatric Surgical Oncology Research Collaborative study,” at the American Academy of Pediatrics Virtual National Conference & Exhibition.


Handheld PET Probe for Pediatric Cancer Surgery
Rinehardt HN, Longo S, Gilbert R, Shoaf JN, Edwards WB, Kohanbash G, Malek MM
2022 Apr 29

Thoracoscopy vs Thoracotomy for the Management of Metastatic Osteosarcoma: A Pediatric Surgical Oncology Research Collaborative Study
Lautz TB, Farooqui Z, Jenkins T, Heaton TE, Doski JJ, Cooke-Barber J, Murphy AJ, Davidoff AM, Mansfield SA, Kim ES, Zuber S, Goodhue C, Vasudevan SA, LaQuaglia MP, Piche N, Le-Nguyen A, Aldrink JH, Malek MM, Siow VS, Glick RD, Rich BS, Meyers RL, Short SS, Butter A, Baertschiger RM, Fialkowski EA, Dasgupta R
International Journal of Cancer
2021 Mar 1

Microcoil Localization as an Effective Adjunct to Thoracoscopic Resection of Pulmonary Nodules in Children
Morgan KM, Crowley JJ, Many BT, Lautz TB, Malek MM
Journal of Pediatric Surgery
2021 Jan

Minimally Invasive Surgery for Abdominal and Thoracic Neuroblastic Tumors: A Systematic Review by the APSA Cancer Committee
Gurria JP, Malek MM, Heaton TE, Gehred A, Lautz TB, Rhee DS, Tracy ET, Grant CN, Baertshiger RM, Bruny J, Christison-Lagay ER, Rodeberg DA, Ehrlich PF, Dasgupta R, Aldrink JH
Journal of Pediatric Surgery
2020 Nov

Minimally Invasive Surgery for Pediatric Renal Tumors: A Systematic Review by the APSA Cancer Committee
Malek MM, Behr CA, Aldrink JH, Dasgupta R, Heaton TE, Gehred A, Lautz TB, Baertschiger RM, Christison-Lagay ER, Tracy ET, Rhee DS, Rodeberg D, Austin MT, Ehrlich PF
Journal of Pediatric Surgery
2020 Nov

Optimization of Percutaneous Biopsy for Diagnosis and Pretreatment Risk Assessment of Neuroblastoma
Overman RE, Kartal TT, Cunningham AJ, Fialkowski EA, Naik-Mathuria BJ, Vasudevan SA, Malek MM, Kalsi R, Le HD, Stafford LC, Lautz TB, Many BT, Jones RE, Bütter A, Davidson J, Williams A, Dasgupta R, Lewis J, Troutt M, Aldrink JH, Mansfield SA, Lal DR, Xiao J, Meyers RL, Short SS, Newman EA
Pediatric Blood & Cancer
2020 May

Contrast-Enhanced Ultrasound of Congenital and Infantile Hemangiomas: Preliminary Results from a Case Series
El-Ali AM, McCormick A, Thakrar D, Yilmaz S, Malek MM, Squires JH
AJR American Journal of Roentgenology
2020 Mar

Use of Intraoperative Nuclear Imaging Leads to Decreased Anesthesia Time and Real-time Confirmation of Lesion Removal
Fusco JC, Seynnaeve BKN, Davit AJ 3rd, Czachowski MR, Joyce JM, Gaines BA, Malek MM
Journal of Pediatric Surgery

2017 Oct 9

Opportunities to Join

We’d Like to Hear From You!

The Malek Lab is looking for talented post-doctoral fellows and graduate students interested in Intraoperative Molecular Imaging and Pediatric Cancer Surgery. Please contact Dr. Marcus Malek via email at if you are interested.